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Vancouver's Downtown Eastside: An ethnography of restaurateurs and neighbourhood change

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
This thesis examines the relationship between high-end food and beverage establishments and neighbourhood change, which come together to produce 'foodie gentrification'. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, including participant observation, archival analysis, and interviews, I provide accounts of the micro-level practices enacted through material and symbolic boundary-making to elucidate how spatial manifestations of exclusion are enacted and narrated from the perspective of restaurateur gentrifiers. This research project begins with an understanding that cultural production on the ground is a key component of contemporary urban restructuring. First, I ask: how might the study of 'food space' production and consumption in urban neighbourhoods inform an understanding of the complementarity between the political economy and cultural politics of gentrification? Producing uneven and contradictory experiences which vary from amicable and neighbourly to dehumanizing and violent, these micro-practices are an everyday aspect of high-end food space production, and are instrumental to how gentrification unfolds. Second, I examine the cultural production of 'foodie gentrification', and its increasing orientation toward 'social enterprise' as an important contextual and discursive feature of gentrification in the Downtown Eastside. I argue that by paying attention to the different ways restaurateur gentrifiers are significant agents of these processes, we can gain important insight into how the interrelation of culture and economy produce neighbourhood change. This research therefore offers inroads to developing an empirical reconciliation of cultural and economic explanations of gentrification. The micro-practices of exclusion and displacement are not 'surface-level' results of, but rather are requirements of the cultural and economic production of urban restructuring.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: McCann, Eugene
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